Days into the presidency of Luis Guillermo Solís, some in the expat community are keeping a close eye on Costa Rica’s new leader to see that he acts on his promise for nationwide reform. In trumpeting other campaign emphases like increased transparency and more efficient public services, Solís has bolstered expectations for these transplants who have so much invested into Costa Rica.
Thomas Ghormley, the owner of Century 21 Real Estate in Jacó, became a Partido Acción Ciudadana campaigner after the presidential election went into a second round. The resident of nearly 30 years said Solís has a chance to immediately turn around the public schools and roadways simply by tightening tax collection.
“We have to be honest with ourselves. No one pays the proper amount of taxes,” Ghormley said. “If we want an improved government, we need to pay our amount. If they just collected the taxes that are already on the books, especially in terms of property, you’d have more than enough to cover those.”
He said he jumped onto Solís’ bandwagon partly because he believes the new president will strengthen local governments by implementing strict levels of accountability. Since the election, he has been especially impressed with the cabinet hirings of Melvin Jiménez as the minister of the Presidencia and María del Rocío Sáenz to head the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.
Other expats are taking a more skeptical, wait-and-see approach towards Solís, like Susan James who has lived here for eight years. She said coming from the United States can make someone scoff every time they hear a politician promoting a great change.
“Politicians say what they want people to hear, and even if they believe what they say, they found out once they get elected and its hard to do all the things you say,” Ms. James said. “I’m a bit jaded from my country. He looks good and sounds good for now.”
Though she is retired, Ms. James added that the election of Solís was a promising sign for the country.
And as business owners wince with hefty bills in one hand and a payroll sheet in the other, some have said rising costs have hampered or killed their business models. Albert Lusk is a farmer with a small 1.5-acre tract in Heredia who said that he has had to cut down his operations and has stopped dealing commercially. He has had to fire workers and halt production on goods made from the goats from his farm. Now, he said, he’s interested to see if Solis’ team has a clear plan intact to help not only small business owners, but everyone suffering financially.
“The biggest thing that bothers me is that there is no clear economic plan mapped out,” Lusk said. “There’s a big election and all these issues, but how are you going to work your way out of this?”
One obvious route has always been through more international trade and investment opportunities. Although Solís has stated his reluctance to depend on trade with the U.S. in the past, Ghormley said the president doesn’t have to spend much time looking to find the benefits of increased outside investment.
“Solís is a realist. He knows he needs foreign investment and he needs the big companies to help the economy grow,” he said. “It looks like our niche is in the service industry. High-tech is going to Vietnam where it’s cheaper.”
Some expat businesses are still booming following the era of Partido Liberación Nacional. Robert Smith in Palmares has spent 17 years in the property rental industry and said his affairs continue to see profits because of a heavy supply of repeat business. And contrary to the beliefs of some of the other expats polled, Smith thinks more and more are moving to Costa Rica. He is now getting about one client a month from the U.S. who wants to settle here.
Lusk said he worries about those who try to relocate to Costa Rica on their Social Security checks alone, and added that many are now stuck here because of the real estate market, among other factors. He said recent government actions have left expats basically disenfranchised that created voids in trust that the new administration may not be able to cover.
“I don’t feel like we have any seat at the table,” Lusk said. “I don’t have any confidence in the government.”